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County participates in rural action plan development process

Sun Advocate editor

Carbon and Emery County representatives participated in locally prioritizing 13 economic development objectives outlined in a preliminary action plan presented at a regional rural Utah partnership meeting in Price last Thursday.

The 2004 Utah Legislature passed a bill creating a single-agenda partnership board to enhance economic development efforts in the rural areas of the state. The board conducted Internet surveys in July and accepted input from attendees at the 2004 Utah Rural Summit as the first step in developing a statewide list of economic development recommendations.

The board received hundreds of suggestions from locations in rural Utah and sent the ideas back to the survey respondents for ranking according to importance at the local level. Rural summit participants sorted through the top recommendations gathered as part of the survey process and compiled the list of 13 tentative goals included in the preliminary rural action agenda.

"The ideas were submitted, evaluated and prioritized by people in rural Utah," pointed out Steve Daniels, who conducted the Oct. 7 regional meeting at College of Eastern Utah.

The professor and Utah State University Extension community development specialist will compile the data collected at the regional gatherings and forward the information to the rural partnership board for review by the members prior to the panel's Oct. 21 meeting.

Introducing the preliminary action plan last Thursday, Daniels explained that the purpose of the regional meetings centered around evaluating the feasibility of implementing the 13 initiatives at the regional level and identifying the local impacts of the proposed recommendations.

The USU professor handed out informational packets highlighting the proposals recommended by the rural partnership board and urged the individuals in attendance at the meeting to evaluate one or two of the suggestions in depth before prioritizing the list of 13 ideas.

The initiatives outlined in the preliminary action plan included:

•Forming public, private and business communities partnerships to develop regional training strategies.

The recommended process involves considering a representative sampling of businesses within the respective regions to assess training needs and develop flexible strategies to address emerging opportunities, incorporate distance learning tools, teach basic technology skills and provide entrepreneur education.

•Expanding the business and economic development division's Utah Smart Site program. The proposal favors relocating technology based jobs to rural communities and increasing the number of state contracts awarded to Utah Smart Site firms.

•Revisiting state highway rights of way and explore innovative ways to leverage the permits to promote high-speed bandwidth expansion to under-served rural communities.

•Implementing strategies to reduce health care insurance costs and related obstacles blocking rural entrepreneurship.

•Establishing a rural-wide "micro-enterprise" loan program with funding invested by Utah's lending institutions.

The proposal favors providing up to $25,000 in funding from the loan program to initial stage rural firms.

The rural partnership board recommends leveraging and coordinating the money from the proposed program with existing rural revolving loan funds.

•Establishing rural entrepreneur innovation centers patterned after models employing coaching, mentoring and support teams.

"The centers will provide virtual one-stop shopping and intensive coordination for rural businesses," pointed out Daniels.

The centers will direct rural businesses through all stages of development, from financing through production to delivery of products.

•Prompting the Utah Travel Council to work collaboratively with rural industries to identify and market regional motorized/non-motorized trail systems.

•Adopting a funding model to increase travel council revenues to promote the state's tourism brand in rural Utah.

The model must be acceptable to regional officials, provide a mechanism for ongoing input and complement the efforts of rural travel industry representatives, noted the preliminary action plan.

•Developing a comprehensive training process to provide rural communities with a full understanding of tourism strategies, resources, investments and benefits associated with effectively implemented tourism programs.

•Supporting efforts to assure competitive incentives and attract filmmakers to locations in rural Utah.

•Identifying clusters of rural Utah areas competitively positioned to compete globally.

The clusters will become the critical mass in promoting the regional philosophies to benefit economic development in local communities in rural Utah, pointed out Daniels.

Efforts should focus on attracting targeted firms to the clusters as well as expanding new and existing businesses.

•Continuing the agriculture conference initiated in 2004.

The recommendation also includes establishing an Internet toolbox of successful agribusiness strategies.

•Creating an agriculture innovation center to assist rural Utah's farmers and ranchers in developing markets, value added commodities and products.

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